Sunday, June 3, 2012

America's Loneliest Highway

Chapter 30 - “America’s Loneliest Highway” (574 Miles)

Al and I picked up US Highway 50 not too far south of Provo, Utah.  We knew it had a reputation for being a desolate stretch of road between Provo and Carson City, Nevada and we thought it would make a good ride on the home stretch of our great Milwaukee adventure.

This mentality is in keeping with the old adage “it is not the destination, but the journey” in reference to motorcycle trips.  If you don’t understand this, just try it.  Once. Beware though because it is like trying to eat just one potato chip, only better, much better.
Somewhere on Highway 50

Our run to Carson City would take us around 600 miles from the eastern edge of Utah to the western edge of Nevada.  It was our first afternoon of travel on 50 and it looked like we were going to get some heavy rain somewhere along the way.  There were dark cloud formations in the west and we figured they were heading our way.

Somehow we went whipping through them.  It was almost like the highway zigged and zagged on purpose, just to get us through the area dry.  Once, while dropping down off a mountain pass I felt a splash of water and that was it.  It had to be the briefest rainfall I have ever been in. It was like a cloud just burped or something.

A little later, while coming off another pass, we actually got into a shower for a couple minutes.  We didn’t pull off to put on rain gear because we had leather jackets on and our jeans got wet right away.  We were thinking we would just head for shelter when we got off the pass if the rain persisted.  Well it didn’t and by the time we got to the valley below we were dry.  Blessed again by the gods above!  This is just another bit of evidence to suggest He has a Harley Himself.

Highway 50 goes through several mountain ranges, so you find yourself generally in one of three situations:  You are either heading uphill toward a pass, downhill out of one, or on a 30- or 40-mile run across a flat valley floor with great views of the mountain ranges all around you.  I am sure we hit at least a half dozen passes of 6,000 feet or more on our run across 50.

Another feature is there is very little traffic. There is simply no one out there.  It’s like everyone is on the interstate or in a city somewhere and no one is on Highway 50.  If you tour on a motorcycle you know what I mean when I say, “this is perfect riding.”

The Gump Group

In that 600-mile stretch we did see a few small towns and what I call the four Forrests. Not trees mind you, but the Gump type– you know, like in “Gump. Forrest Gump.”  The first one we saw was a biker, as in bicycle, who was out in the middle of a 50-mile stretch of nowhere.  Next we saw a solitary jogger in a similar situation.

Then we were heading through some foothills into a valley and along the side of the road was another solitary figure.  He had two large garbage bags full of something lying next to him and he was sitting cross-legged staring out into the valley below.  Finally we were a few miles out of a little town and there was a guy clad in shorts and shoes only, heading for what looked like nowhere.

Now as I recollect these guys all had some things in common.  They all looked fairly old.  They all had gray hair and beards and they all were thin.  So what the hell does that mean?  Maybe it is this:  If you want to get old, turn gray and get thin, head for "the loneliest highway in America", Highway 50.

That night we settled in at an old mining town named Austin, Nevada. Austin had a handful of stores and three tiny motels.  The rooms were cheap at $35 and clean to boot.  We moseyed (That is what you do in an old mining town, right? You mosey!) up the street to the restaurant and bar and had a couple hamburger steaks with fries backed up by a couple damn fine tallnecks and turned in early in preparation for the last leg home the next day.

Just Stop… And Tip Over

While the Coyote and I were on our glorious run along The Loneliest Highway I had an attack.  It was rapture of the outdoors (a total surprise to anyone who knows me).  As a result, I began keeping an eye out for photo opportunities.  Somewhere on the remote route we passed a very scenic outcropping of rock.  I noticed it had an area right in front where the bikes would look great for a photo.   I happened to be in the lead at the time so I slowed down and gave Al a couple of hundred million signals to indicate we were turning back.  As we approached I left the highway to take a short gravel road to the site.

About the time I got the bike on the gravel I noticed a small almost dry creek was crossing the road.  It also had what looked like a pretty large muddy area I would have to cross.  I only had a split second to assess the situation and came up with zip… nada.  I mean, I could not tell how deep the mud was and I was not going to put almost a thousand pounds of bike, gear and person on it to find out.  So I grabbed a handful of brake, put my foot down to steady the bike, got no purchase in the gravel and gently laid the bike down.  What I mean is… I fell over.

If you remember the television show, Laugh In, you may recall Arte Johnson used to do that all the time.  Picture a full grown man riding around on a little tricycle, coming abruptly to a halt and falling over.  That is what Arte did and that is just what I did.  Thanks for the idea Arte!  So Al came up, laughed at me for a while and then began trying to help me get the bike out of there.

We couldn’t get the puppy up so we finally decided to unload my packs and try.  That worked and we were soon underway none the worse for the wear.  So much for the badass biker concept right?!

Falling over... it has happened to me several times while practically motionless. If it has to happen this is the best time as the worst development is typically a slightly bruised ego.  Conversely, if it happens while you are moving, there are an infinite number of very bad things that can happen.

“So what...” you say, “I have ridden for ten months or ten years or longer and it has never happened to me.”  Don’t worry it will.  As the old Brook Benton standard goes; "It’s Just a Matter of Time."


Anonymous said...

Now that was a Badass story on a
"Badass Highway". Your lucky you got home in one piece.Very good reading, as always. S.D. Granny

Jim Nordby, Sr. said...

Soft Florida sugar sand and my lack of awareness have caused me to do a couple of "Arties", always in front of someone who might have deemed me a cool old rider had I not demonstrated otherwise.

I'm contemplating a cross country to Minnesota for a family reunion and I use the term "plan" loosely. I'll probably talk about it for months and then just take off and react to whatever comes my way. Is there a better method?

TomC said...

Thanks for the comments Granny... and Jim!

And yes Jim... there is a better method, but it may not be any more fun. Alternate routes so you can duck weather, checklists for what to pack (there is one in the book I will publish on the blog for you), a riding buddy (great for watching your back and helping pick up your ride after an "Artie." I always hated to plan, loved spontaneity, but started a year in advance for the HD 100th anniversary run to Milwaukee... it worked great! Either way, "cross country" just has a helluva good ring to it.

Chuck Spooner said...

Tom, as you know, this is my favorite chapter from Badass. Good to visit it once again.

TomC said...

Thanks Chuck!

James said...

Will you please post a link to your Blog at The Harley Davidson Community? Our members will love it.
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